Americans are more politically polarized than at any time in modern history. Burning the bridge between red and blue states, political acrimony now trails Americans everywhere from their place of worship (Episcopal or evangelical) to where they head for food after services (Chick-fil-A or Ben & Jerry’s). To underscore this divide, more than half of likely GOP 2012 primary voters insisted in a 2011 Public Policy Polling study that they believe President Obama was born outside the U.S. Our national dialogue has degraded from questioning the merit of our opponents' ideas to attacking the very legitimacy of their American identity.
As political discourse and basic respect for other people’s views continue to plummet, one family provides hope that our country can rise from this morass and become united once more. The Simpsons has won 27 Primetime Emmy Awards and become one of the best-loved television series in history by reflecting funny and often-revealing truths about our families and country. Fittingly, the show’s home setting of Springfield is purposely left unidentified by a state through two decades of episodes, as Homer and Lisa Simpson’s social ideologies represent wholly disparate segments of the American political and geographical landscape.
Homer Simpson embodies the red-blooded, red-state male archetype. A gun enthusiast who watches Fox News to feed his anti-liberal rage, Homer lives by simple values ("I care about M-E – My Enjoyment!") and cannot be bothered with his daughter's new-age ideas or activities. Like many middle-age conservatives, Homer took a job directly out of high school, signing on to work at Springfield's nuclear power plant to support his pregnant wife, Marge (and their in utero troublemaker son, Bart). He takes a rock-ribbed rightist stance on immigration and other social issues, only accepting same-sex marriage when he realizes he can make good money performing these ceremonies in his family's garage.
Like many conservative dads in the Obama era, however, Homer finds himself raising a more progressive progeny. Set on attending an Ivy League university and constantly questioning Springfield's stodgy authority figures, Lisa Simpson represents everything that drives her father (and his GOP brethren) crazy about liberal America. The jazz-loving, green-minded eight-year-old prefers NPR to her father’s more conservative mediums and preaches the gospel of evolution to anyone who will listen (as well as those struggling not to). Her interests lead Homer to endure torturous engagements at museums, art-house cinemas, and the Ronald Reagan Reeducation Center (after Lisa violates post-9/11 doctrine and gets the entire family imprisoned by quoting from the First Amendment in church).
Despite their differences, Homer and Lisa's relationship is perhaps the most poignant on The Simpsons. Father and daughter are diametrical in every way yet always succeed in overcoming their frequent fights to understand each other a little better and unite once more as family. Here is what their experiences can teach us about learning to love (or at least tolerate) the partisan opponents in our lives:
Keep your credo to yourself. Lisa seems to view her life's mission as broadcasting her personal manifesto to the world at-large - witness her public struggles to free Tibet, promote feminist causes, and stop loggers from cutting down Springfield’s oldest redwood tree. And Homer is no better, mocking her environmental beliefs and blasting conservative talk radio in his car over Lisa’s protests. There's a time for standing up for what you believe in, but it's nearly always the right time to refrain from haranguing other people with your views on politics and hot-button social issues. Avoiding needless arguments over settled beliefs can help to preserve personal relationships with those who see things differently.
Don't belittle those with opposing views. If conversations do turn to politics, name-calling and harassment are never acceptable. Both Homer and Lisa seem capable of treating each other with equal immaturity - witness Homer and Bart taunting the vegetarian Lisa by chanting "You don't win friends with salad!" or Lisa repeatedly yelling "Baboon!" at her dad to curse his intellectual shortcomings. Personal insults can often escalate arguments into full-blown feuds, as when Lisa responds to Homer's salad barb by abducting his roast pig and ruining his big barbecue party. Political disagreements may be inevitable, but making them personal and contemptuous can cement negative feelings toward people you care about.
Apologies are an acceptable form of communication. A refusal to ask forgiveness is as misguided as Homer declaring, “I never apologize, Lisa. I am sorry, but that’s just the way I am.” Don’t be afraid to extend your regrets after someone’s sacred cow comes under fire. After their pork-provoked argument, Lisa speaks for all of us at some point in our lives by telling Homer, "I'm never, ever apologizing because I was standing up for a just cause and you were wrong, wrong, wrong!" But after chatting with Paul and Linda McCartney outside Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart, Lisa extends an olive branch, responding to Homer's apology by admitting, "Actually, Dad, this time I was wrong…too."
Remember you're on the same team. Homer and Lisa Simpson represent different sides of the country that may never see eye-to-eye on major sociopolitical issues. But their underlying love and affection for each other always allow Dad and Daughter to realize that what binds them together is far stronger than what divides them. Whether debating the existence of global warming or the merits of Lisa's Buddhist beliefs, America's favorite animated family always heeds the instruction of fellow Springfield resident Abraham Lincoln, who counseled his countrymen through an even more combative era with timeless guidance: "though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." Or, as Homer vows to Bart, Lisa, and baby Maggie, “My kids can be obnoxious, or boring, or stinky, but they can always count on one thing: their father’s unconditional love.”
From guest contributor Kyle Schmitt